Director: Mark Goffman
Starring: Terry Fator (‘America’s Got Talent’), Dan Horn, Kim Yeager, Dylan Burdette, Wilma Schwartz
Telling jokes at the expense of the audience with outrageous props is a popular way for comedians to get a laugh from their audiences. But if one of those props is a puppet, adults tend to steer clear of the show. In his new documentary ‘Dumbstruck,’ first-time movie director Mark Goffman creates a relatability to the ventriloquists he features, showing how they overcome the stigma placed on their profession.
‘Dumbstruck’ tells the struggles of five ventriloquists, including ‘America’s Got Talent’ season two winner Terry Fator; one of the world’s few cruise line ventriloquists, Dan Horn; Kim Yeager, who mainly performs at children’s shows but is trying to break into cruise lines; 13-year-old Dylan Burdette, who does ventriloquism as a hobby but wants to become a professional; and Wilma Schwartz, who has been disowned by most of her family for her love of puppets. Horn, Yeager, Burdette and Schwartz all aim to become as well-known as Fator, who struggled to gain recognition for his craft for 22 years in Corsicana, Texas.
The documentary also tells how Fator achieved his dream after winning the hit NBC reality series in 2007. After performing at the Las Vegas Hilton for three months in early 2008, he signed a five-year, $100 million deal with The Mirage. He attended the 32nd annual Vent Haven Convention in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky in 2008, where Horn, Yeager, Burdette and Schwartz were all in attendance.
Goffman, who rose to fame as a television producer and writer and has worked on such shows as ‘The West Wing’ and ‘White Collar,’ was still able to perfectly capture the troubles ventriloquists face in ‘Dumbstruck.’ People unfamiliar with the craft will come to appreciate the effort the performers put into entertaining crowds, and the personal obstacles they must overcome. Viewers will feel as though they know the ventriloquists by the end of the documentary, as they can relate to their conflicts.
For example, even though Horn has a successful career performing on cruise ships, his family life suffers. Since he travels for months at a time, his wife ends up filing for divorce, as he’s never home for her or their children. Yeager, meanwhile, wants to get married and start a family like everyone else, but also wants to branch out from just performing children’s shows. While she’s a former Miss Ohio beauty queen, she still faces rejection from the cruise lines she wants to perform on.
The ventriloquists’ determination sends a good message to the movie’s audience, proving that if they too work hard at what they love, they will be recognized. No one can stop anyone from reaching their goals, even if they don’t support them. For example, Burdette’s father, Barry, doesn’t understand his son’s love of puppets, as he feels his son should be playing football instead. But with the support of his mother Jennifer, Burdette still has the courage to audition for one of the top traveling performance groups in Cincinnati.
While ventriloquism’s popularity has declined in recent years, and the performers are often shunned by people who don’t understand their love of puppets, ‘Dumbstruck’ helps break some common misconceptions surrounding the stagecraft. With the detailed look into the lives of five ventriloquists, including some of the most famous and successful performers and some amateurs, Goffman proves how hard, but fun, performing with puppets can be.
Written by: Karen Benardello